Popular Science Monthly/Volume 53/July 1898/Correspondence


Editor Popular Science Monthly:

Sir: In your review of the Rev. Dr. Zahm's article on Evolution and Teleology, which appeared in the April issue of the Popular Science Monthly, there are two points which are strangely at variance with the logical acumen displayed in the remainder of the review.

The first of these is the method you employ to repudiate Dr. Zahm's inclusion of Huxley and Spencer among the teleologists. You state that Huxley has been misinterpreted and that "Mr. Spencer is not a teleologist," but you give no facts to corroborate these assertions. As presented by you they are mere statements and as such can not carry weight.

But the second point is a far more serious one. When you deny that Mr. Spencer is a teleologist you overlook the fact that he has declared himself to be one. In his response to Mr. Sidgwick he discriminates between "a legitimate and an illegitimate teleology," and, after illustrating this difference, concludes his demonstrations as follows: "I am. . . arguing teleologically but in the legitimate way."

Were Dr. Zahm's conception of teleology the only possible one, your statement in regard to Mr. Spencer would undoubtedly be true. But, as the above quotation from Mr. Spencer shows, there are at least two possible conceptions. One of these, the "illegitimate," is that accepted by Dr. Zahm; while the other, the "legitimate," is doubtless that referred to by Huxley when he says, "It is necessary to remember that there is a wider teleology which. . . is actually based upon the fundamental principle of evolution."

The fallacy of Dr. Zahm's argument does not lie in his assertion that modern men of science have given evidence in favor of teleology, but in his failure to perceive the two meanings of the word.

Margaret Chase.
New York, April 30, 1898.

[In saying that Spencer and Huxley were not teleologists we expressed ourselves broadly and, in relation to the matter in hand, we think correctly. What Mr. Spencer speaks of as a legitimate teleology is not teleology at all as the word is generally understood, and has nothing whatever in common with the teleology of Dr. Zahm. "Teleology of a kind," Mr. Spencer says, "is necessarily involved in the discussion of human conduct"; and he gives a biological illustration to prove that it is possible to argue teleologically and yet in a legitimate way. This is hardly the same thing as "declaring himself a teleologist." Now what is Mr. Spencer's "legitimate teleology"? According to the example he furnishes it is legitimate teleology to say that the chief end subserved by the hardness of the shell of a particular seed is the preservation of the life of the plant producing the seed; but he is most careful to rule out absolutely the idea that the preserving of the life of the plant had anything to do with the hardening of the seed in the first place. The hardening occurred through physiological causes; and this peculiarity, happening to favor the life of the plant, became in course of time, under the action of the law of selection, an established characteristic. The teleology here may be legitimate, but it is of a very shadowy nature, and we do not think we were far wrong in ignoring it altogether.

As regards Huxley, his position is simply that it is impossible either to prove or to disprove a teleological thesis that takes in the whole universe and all recorded and unrecorded time. When he says that "there is a wider teleology which is not touched by the doctrine of evolution, but is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of evolution," he does not mean, as our correspondent, following Dr. Zahm, seems to suppose, that the fundamental proposition of evolution supports the teleological view, but that the upholders of the doctrine in question take their stand upon that proposition. What is the proposition as formulated by Huxley? It is that "the whole world, living and not living, is the result of mutual interaction according to definite laws of the forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed." The new teleology, as represented by Dr. Zahm, accepts the proposition, and says that the whole machine was designed to work exactly as it has worked in the past, is working in the present, and will work in the future. You may tell the person who makes this assertion that he does not know anything about it, but that will not make him budge. Huxley's own position is that we do not know anything about it; and we were therefore entirely justified in saying that he was not a teleologist. He consistently held that such problems transcended human faculties.

Our treatment of Dr. Zahm's article in the Editor's Table was necessarily very brief, and we are glad our correspondent has given us this opportunity of bringing the views of two of the leading exponents of the evolution philosophy into fuller relief.—Ed.]